This story originally appeared in The Eagle on Sept. 30, 1990.
For 22 children in nine families, the 1970 Wichita State plane crash meant that Mom or Dad or both never would be coming home.
The crash in Colorado that killed 31 people also tore at the roots of many families, both immediate and extended, that had to deal with the loss of their loved ones. Of those 22 children left behind, 13 were orphans after the crash. Five wives also found themselves widowed, most at a very young age.
But many of those children and widows contacted recently said they were able to move forward from the tragedy and found ways to go on with their lives. For starters, there is the sizable family of Raymond and Yvonne King.
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King, a state representative from Hesston, and his wife went on the trip because they were strong Shocker supporters and also had close family friends in Logan, Utah, where WSU was traveling for a game against Utah State.
When Raymond and Yvonne King were killed, they left behind seven children: Mary Lynne, 18; Gary, 16; Terri, 13; Lori, 10; Lisa, 7; Juli, 6 and Dina, 4.
But they also left behind a firm base of love and strong Christian beliefs, qualities that helped their children survive the immediate crisis and that continue to play important roles in their lives today.
Mary Lynne was a freshman at Asbury College in Wilmore, Ky., at the time of the crash. She quit school and returned to Hesston to help keep the family together.
“That was very important to us, staying together,” she said earlier this month. “We really needed each other.”
Guardianship of the King children originally was supposed to go to relatives in Atlanta. But the whole family agreed that the children had been through enough and didn’t need to be uprooted to another part of the country.
So Ray King’s two brothers, who lived in Hesston, took over matters of the estate and family property. A couple that were close family friends then became the first of a half-dozen sets of “houseparents” who raised the children over the next several years.
“We just had a great training and background,” Mary Lynne said. “We’ve definitely all stayed close.”
Mary Lynne, Gary and Lori are all married, live in Lexington, Ky., and have seven children between them. Terri has three children and lives in Houghton, N.Y., where her husband is the basketball coach at the local college.
Lisa, the only single one in the bunch, teaches third grade in Kenya, where she is doing missionary work. Juli has two sons and lives in Madison, Wis., and Dina and her new husband are in Columbia, S.C., in a seminary.
“It doesn’t matter where we are in the world, we try to keep in touch,” Mary Lynne said. “We try to at least get everybody together every other year for Christmas. This year is the King family Christmas, so we’ll all be here in Lexington.
’’Being together is still important to us.”
The children of John and Etta Mae Grooms stayed together, too. Their parents were aboard the Shocker plane by one of those strange twists of fate that often emerge in tragedies.
John Grooms, vice president of Boulevard State Bank and a devoted WSU fan, had won a trip with the football team because he sold the most Shocker booster club memberships. When he and his wife died in the crash, they left behind Eric, 7, and Nancy, 11.
The two children were raised by their aunt and uncle in Augusta, the same couple that was keeping the children when the Grooms left for what was supposed to be a weekend trip. Nancy is now married, has two children and is expecting a third. Eric is married and is vice president of Prairie State Bank in Augusta.
“What’s so sad is that they won the trip,” Eric said. “And they picked that trip to go on because they thought it would be a scenic flight over the mountains. It’s so ironic.”
Diane Kimmel knew all about irony. She and Malory Kimmel had been high school sweethearts in tiny St. Genevieve, Mo., and had gone to Wichita State together to earn their college degrees. They had just married in the summer of 1970 and the week before the crash, Diane found out she was pregnant.
Mal Kimmel was thrilled. In fact, everything seemed to be going right for him that week. Usually the back-up center, Kimmel finally had earned a starting spot on the Shocker team. That meant, for the first time, he would fly on the “Gold” plane with the starters, the one that crashed.
“Mal was really fighting for that starting spot,” said Madge Kimmel, his mother. “He was so excited when he got it. He called us a couple of days before they left and told us he’d be playing with the first team.”
Diane and Mal Kimmel already had spent hours trying to choose a name for their baby and had finally settled on one for a boy. But Diane Kimmel had a baby girl and decided to name her Valory.
“I was always kind of glad it was a girl because I would have been torn between using the name we chose and naming it after him somehow if it was a boy,” Diane said. “I guess things work out.”
Diane Kimmel has remarried and is now Diane Kinloch. She has a second daughter and lives in Springfield, Mo., where she is coordinator of early childhood services for the city’s public school district. Valory, 19, is a sophomore at Southwest Missouri State.
Kinloch says Valory’s birth was a source of comfort to her when she badly needed it and that Valory still is a comfort to her grandparents.
“I think the fact that I had Mal’s baby has always been good for his parents,” Diane said. “It’s still as fresh for them today as it was then. They say time heals things, but when it’s your child, it’s very tough. I’m not sure if they ever bounced back.
“But I’m not sure anyone ever does completely.”
Valory Kimmel is not the only child who grew up without ever knowing her father as a result of the WSU crash.
The Wednesday before the accident, Scott Reeves had walked door to door in his neighborhood carrying a sign that declared he had a new baby brother named Brad. Their father, Tom, was the head trainer for the football team and was aboard the plane that crashed.
He survived the initial impact but died three days after the crash, giving his wife, Diane, time to leave her hospital bed in Wichita to be at his bedside in Colorado.
She has remarried and lives in Hutchinson; she and her second husband have a son who is almost 12. Scott graduated in May from the University of Kansas, is married and has a 2-month-old baby boy. Brad, who turns 20 today, is a sophomore at the University of Arizona.
“They grow up so quickly,” said Diane Reeves, now Diane Coon. “I remember Tom was so happy about the new baby. The plan was that he would pick me and the new baby up that Sunday from the hospital when he got home. But it didn’t work out that way.”
There were other children who lost parents and there were other widows.
Athletic director Bert Katzenmeyer and his wife, Marian, had two daughters, one of whom still lives in the family home in east Wichita and one of whom died two years ago.
Head coach Ben Wilson and his wife, Helen, left behind a son, John, who was 15, and a daughter, Elizabeth, who was 10.
Dean of admissions Carl Fahrbach left a son, a daughter and his wife, Ruth. She is helping to organize this year’s memorial ceremony at WSU.
Ticket manager Floyd Farmer had a wife, Sharon, a son, Eric, and daughter, Dana.
Gene Robinson, a junior end on the team, had a wife, Hattie Jean, and two sons, Derrick and David.
“There were quite a lot of us left behind,” Diane Kinloch said. “But you just had to find a way to go on. I believe most of us did just that.”